starbucks: a view from the inside

I dream of having a coffee shop someday.  It’ll be my little love shop, where folks can’t help but come back, not only for the killer coffee and hot chocolate and baked good(nes)s, but just because they feel more at home there than they’ve ever felt anywhere.  I hadn’t known much about coffee, though, until lately.  Well, I knew what my husband had told me, which he learned from a friend.  I’m not sure where his friend learned it.

We’ve been thinking lately that a little extra income from my working a few evenings a week could help offset our oncoming adoption costs.  And, you know, while I’m at it, I could do some first-hand research on the workings of a coffee house. 

So, I did something I never thought I’d do:  I applied at Starbucks.  But you see, my little shop is an independent shop, and Starbucks… well, it’s very well the antithesis of that.  It’s a behemoth of a company, with tens of thousands of stores worldwide.   And as for the skill of the baristas, while they may have started out with a passion for art in those first little Starbucks shops in Seattle, I hardly feel like an artist as I push the espresso button on our machines.  We get merchandise to sell — seasonal junk that’s available in any old Starbucks store.  You can chose one of six pretty gift cards if you want to give Starbucks drinks to a friend.  We have three cleaners to sanitize the store; nothing else is allowed.  There are rules and standards and drink formulas.

But it’s a great company; it really is.  Benefits are incredible.  The coffee beans really are some of the best in the business.  Every store in the nation shut down a few weeks ago to retrain the baristas on how to steam milk and calibrate the espresso machines so the drinks will come out a little closer to perfect.  It’s a well-oiled machine, even when you’re on the inside.  And Starbucks has a globally sensitive perspective, too, selling Ethos water to build clean-water wells and offering fairly traded coffee so the growers get good payment for their labor.  I guess I expected the best.

Having just sprung onto the environmentalist bandwagon, I was floored to start working at a store that recycled precisely nothing.  Hundreds of empty milk cartons and unused paper and plastic cups travel from our store to the landfill every week.  And the milk itself is another tricky thing:  once steamed milk gets below a certain temperature, it’s down the drain.  The pastries that look so appealling in that shiny glass case don’t actually sell out and get eaten.  The leftovers go… in the trash.

It made me sick the first week.  I loathed the posters of foreign children, so joyful that Starbucks gave them clean water.  I wondered how many more children would be affected by the waste from all the plastic water bottles, since only five or ten cents of the $1.80 it costs to buy the bottle of water actually goes toward the building of wells.  I wondered about the 95% of coffee growers who aren’t represented by the one type of coffee that boasts the “Fair Trade Coffee” stamp (Cafe Estima blend). 

And I kept finding that no one really cared besides me.  When I protested that I didn’t want to practice making drinks that weren’t going to be consumed, people kept telling me: “It’s in the budget.”  But what if it weren’t in the budget?  Think how many more clean water wells you could build!  Think how many more coffee growers you could rescue from a lifetime of poverty?

I started taking leftover pastries to Union Gospel Mission in Dallas, where they’ll be served to homeless men for breakfast.  I started taking the leftover newspapers to my own recycling bin at home.  I’d take milk cartons, but I fear I’d run out of space in about a day.

But I know there’s hope.  One of my superiors said he wanted to present a proposal to start recycling at our store.  He asked me to write down my thoughts on recycling, so he could present it at the next staff meeting.  Whatever he meant by that, I’m all over it.  I plan to research just how much waste our store puts out every year.  Another reason to hope is that we just got more ceramic plates and mugs to offer our customers in place of disposable cups and paper pastry bags.  I can’t help but think that this will dramatically improve customer satisfaction as well as saving trees and landfill space.

And I can’t forget about the love.  I don’t know if anyone at work has read my training notebook, but I wrote that one of my goals for the first three months was to love every customer.  It’s so easy to forget.  I push my register buttons, make my formulaic drinks, and turn my “smile” knob.  “Thanks for the buck; have a nice day.”  But I think learning to love is the real training.  I’ve learned all a certified barista needs to know about coffee and cleaning up the cafe, and I’ve got a pin to prove it.  But have I got what it takes to run my little love shop, to make a lasting impact in this hurting world?  If I can save ten newspapers as I walk out the door, I can just as easily pass out ten words of kindness and healing.

Training isn’t over yet.

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  1. “baked good(nes)s”

    I loved that.

    It’s so hard to be aware of the environmental impact we have – draining really.

  2. I found your blog on Andrew’s computer favorites and I enjoy getting to know some of his friends this way–even if it has to be a little long distance. 🙂 I enjoy reading your blog.

    Wow, I didn’t realize Starbucks didn’t recycle! That sounds like a cover up after the way they advertize. You are right about loving each customer. Easier said than done. I worked at a grocery store and thought about that at times and just got overwelmed at times. But by the end of the summer when I left for school the manager said-“don’t change you are different.” It was encouraging to realize that God had shone through–despite my weakeness and quick forgetfulness. He makes the difference!

    That is exciting about the adoption! We will pray for God to bless the situation and give wisdom.

    On a side note…I MISS COFFEE. It will be nice once baby is born to have one occasionally! Although I have to say my favorite type of coffee is Panera. I wonder if they recycle. Probably not unfortunately.

  3. This is a great post! Yeah, once you start realizing how much restaurants and everyone else wastes, it can be rather overwhelming. I am rescuing plastic silverware a lot lately, and guess what I’m going to give people for Christmas? Beautiful, shiny packages of plastic silverware! 🙂 Anyway, I am proud of you for living by what you believe! Good job! I would love to hear what happens from the plan you and your coworker present. If we just make a difference where we are, maybe it will spread — not just with the recycling, but with the love. 🙂

  4. And I can’t WAIT to come to your “Cuppa Love” shop!

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